AUTHORS: P. MILLS, S. GOODALL, A. HEBDEN, S. MACMANUS, J. COOPER, R. SOLA, T. GORING | ARTISTS: B. MITCHELL, C. FREIXAS, C. PINO, ENIO, P. FRISANO, P. MARTINEZ HENARES, I. KENNEDY, J. REDONDO, J. COOPER, LOPEZ, L. COLLADO, M. CANOS, M. BELARDINELLI, M. DOREY | PUBLISHER: REBELLION | FORMAT: TRADE PAPERBACK | RELEASE DATE: APRIL 18TH
Back in the '70s, one of the biggest sci-fi shows on TV was The Six-Million Dollar Man. A relatively new 2000 AD decide to pander to its readers’ need for more Thrill-Power by producing M.A.C.H.1, essentially a Bionic Man rip-off with more violence and a darker tone, because that’s what British comic books are like.
John Probe is the ‘Man Activated by Compu-puncture Hyperpower’, which essentially means he has a computer in his head and that microchip-powered acupuncture has been used to grant him super-strength. (This was the ‘70s, sci-fi writers assumed that transistors were magic). If you haven’t read the previous volume, don’t worry, it really doesn’t matter – this isn’t a complicated comic book with any nuance, and the only arc-plot to speak of is that shadowy government organisations that produce human weapons are a bit dodgy. Probe’s main enemy is his boss, the mysterious Sharpe.
The stories are pure ‘70s-style cheese. Probe deals with robot suits, dolphin spies, android replacements, maniacs in robot suits and of course, a female Russian spy who has the same sort of powers as he does. (Though disappointingly she’s never referred to as W.A.C.H.1.) We are also introduced to M.A.C.H. Zero, a hulking brute who doesn’t have a computer in his head. He’s essentially a version of The Hulk, though one clearly inspired by the TV show of the time rather than anything from the comics.
Those of us who grew up with 2000 AD (or its companion comic The Eagle) might have some fond memories of reading M.A.C.H.1, and we’d like to politely advise you to keep those fond memories by avoiding this compilation, it’s much worse than you remember. For the rest of us though, it’s a collection of top-notch cheesiness.
Volume 2 is the final book in the series, compiling all remaining adventures and spin-off stories. What’s fascinating about this collection is a lot of the stories contain some of the key ideas and formula that turned 2000 AD into what it is now. Not just because it’s so packed with ideas and strong pacing, but also what it gets wrong. Some of these flaws are so glaring that it’s easy to figure out what to do better. There’s a shock on every page, everyone speaks in exposition and all the characters scream at each other. The stakes are always dark and the heroes act in the most heroic way possible, no matter how illogical.
As an artefact of its time, M.A.C.H.1 is a lot of very silly fun. From the strangely posed art to the terrible dialogue, it’s a fascinating dip into the ’70s.